Report slams Sonoma institution for neglect, abuse

August 23, 2012 6:58:08 PM PDT
A scathing report out Thursday slammed a California facility for the developmentally disabled. State regulators say what happened at the Sonoma Developmental Center amounts to abuse, neglect, and mistreatment.

Nearly 500 pages long, the confidential report was compiled by inspectors with the state Department of Public Health. While department officials said they did not want to comment on a report that was leaked, the report clearly states that the Sonoma center is in danger of losing federal funding; specifically Medicare, unless it immediately begins to address its violations.

Two weeks ago, a joint committee of the legislature ordered an investigation into the Department of Developmental Services. In particular, they wanted an investigation into its in-house police force, the Office of Protective Services (OPS).

Now, a scathing report by the Department of Public Health is blasting the Sonoma County Developmental Center, the largest of its five board and care facilities for people with intellectual disabilities. The report, a damning indictment of the center, says health inspectors found "very serious conditions impacting quality of care where patients were abused, neglected and otherwise mistreated." The report said the OPS, "failed to insure evidence that all alleged violations and injuries of unknown origin were thoroughly investigated." It says the Sonoma center is at risk of losing its federal certification.

State Senator Mark Leno has authored a bill that would require the OPS to go to outside law enforcement to investigate major crimes, saying, "If it were to lose its accreditation, it would lose the federal money. It would be upwards of over $100 million a year potentially."

The report comes on the heels of an investigation last month by ABC7 News and our media partner California Watch that a staff member was shooting patients with a taser at Sonoma Developmental Center.

The health department's report includes the Sonoma center's plan to correct the violations. Administrators say they've already made changes, but admit more needs to be done. Their written statement says in part, "Both the Executive Director and the Clinical Director have been replaced. Several other employees have been terminated or disciplined."

Leslie Morrison of Disability Rights California has been following the Sonoma center's checkered history, saying, "We are shocked and dismayed by the contents of this report. It reflects a blatant disregard for patient's rights, the dignity for people with disabilities. It discloses horrific instances of resident abuse and neglect."

The OPS has been under fire for years for reportedly conducting lax investigations into abuses and even deaths.

In the taser case, the staffer was caught with a taser and a loaded glock pistol in his car. He was eventually fired and pleaded no contest to a charge of possession of a loaded weapon. But, he was never charged in the taser assaults. The Sonoma County district attorney is now reviewing that case.


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